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Jan 07, 2020 | 7 min read

Executive-as-a-service: the remote Chief Technology Officer

Pavel Kaplunou , Marketing Communications

We often think of startups as a self-sufficient hub of talented individuals, who are solely responsible for the young company’s success. Similarly, we tend to think of large scale companies as having in-house teams of people working on products and services. The reality is this — on many occasions both types of business are able to turn to outsourcing for both software application development and talent recruitment. Lo and behold, this is where the executive-as-a-service model takes center stage.

According to Fortunly, 78% of businesses all over the world feel positive about their outsourcing partners. The same resource also cites that outsourced offshore technology functions have to do with product design and engineering services. 

Companies new and old rely on human resources that are not native to their company to tackle short-term tasks or outline strategic plans for the future with the help of C-suite qualified individuals. They are also do it at a significantly lower rate than those who turn to independent consultants for growth hacking.


Benefits of interim executives

Fresh from the pitching desk with funding secured from angel investors or VC firms, startups race to deliver on their promise of building a disruptive product or introducing a game-changing service. This is normally the stage at which company founders realize that they are understaffed, lack the necessary experience to bring their vision to life or simply cannot squeeze into the newly-established deadlines they just set up by putting their name on the map.

One way of going about it would be to hire an experienced professional full-time to seal the skills gap. Frankly though, hiring the perfect candidate to steer your vision to a bright future is a time consuming task. It is one that is not guaranteed to succeed with the first pick and, , for all intents and purposes, is best accounted for before the project even goes into production. 

A remote executives, such as a CTO, CIO or CISO is not as hard to find it turns out. By turning to outsourced executive hire, companies benefit in the following ways:

  • Cost savings – can work remotely, meaning no relocation costs; rate and reimbursement can be flexible and negotiable; 
  • Rich hands-on experience – executive leaders working in the ITO space, carry know-how of processes and systems applied across many different industries. This experience comes from the multitude of clients and the diversity of requirements they address, working as an on-demand professional
  • Effective work – no hours spent idling, means no time wasted; time-management to tackle designated challenges or specific tasks
  • Ease of withdrawal – the traditional c-level comes with an innate level of loyalty, while a hired executive will have a more pragmatic attitude. Ceding responsibilities to a permanent executive hire will be an expected step, rather than an unpleasant complication.
  • Investor approval – a temporary hire will not raise concerns with the backers and will in fact signal approval that the company has a solid foundation to become a profitable company that understands the basics of business


The intricacies of outsourcing the C-suite

Even though an outsourced or fractional executive is not as novel an idea as one might think, the subject remains a delicate one. Large companies prefer not to disclose their sources of knowledge for fear of drawing unwanted attention of competitors to the same resources. Startups walk a fine line between success or failure, therefore disclosing that they need help could ring the wrong bells to crucial investors.

Most of the time, companies still receive assistance from the outside. In the case of the executive-as-a-service model this often occurs under an NDA, which is absolutely fine. Hence, finer case studies are hard to come by, but a thorough search of the internet will prove that popular question-answer forums demonstrate such experience. Even more evident is the abundance of companies proposing to “lend” such talent on a temporary basis. Articles going as far back as 2016 chronicle the appearance of the contract executive as an alternative to consultational assistance.

To the great dismay of many companies offering this type of service, public reviews are scarce and word of mouth only goes so far. Despite that it remains as clear as day that companies have been falling back on interim executive for years.


How to hire interim senior staff

  1. Any hire should start with an introduction followed by an interview, full stop. Be it a remote conference call or a meeting at an industry event, some form of face to face meeting needs to take place to assess the skills and get a first-hand impression. Even if the person comes highly recommended through your private network, getting to know a bit more about them is the alternative to feeling sorry later. Relating your own requirements often not only strengthens your own professional image, but also gives food for thought for the hirees. An ideal candidate will be disposed to frequent and open dialogue. 
  2. Review experience. Public review aggregators speak volumes about the company you are about to do business with. Platforms such as Clutch, GoodFirms or G2 can reveal useful information about the narrower knowledge and best skills you can expect to receive.
  3. Discover readiness to share equity. Too many companies out there are scoping out a quick buck and are not prepared to take stock. Accountability for work done and a responsible approach to work signals a reliable partner. Make your remote CTO or CIO a strong asset. By offering to share equity in your business, provided this is followed by a comprehensive business plan, you can involve your interim hire on a more personal level. At the same time, by sharing a part of your company with the executive recruit you will also guarantee a higher loyalty and a more productive collaboration.

There are many ways to look for recruitment opportunities online. One such way is through the popular company listing platform AngelList. The company network offers a job search/ recruitment feature that allows to filter candidates and employers by position, salary and mode of work. At the time of writing a job search for a remote CTO with a stake in the company in the form of shares yields over 1,400 search results (see screenshot below). 


Key positions filled

It becomes more and more obvious that at the turn of the new decade companies have had to adapt to new ways of steering their business. Industry behemoths are no strangers to service-based solutions offered by smaller companies. In this day and age, even outsourcing and outstaffing have moved beyond traditional human resource models.

Of course, requirements and particular objectives are not to be neglected. The first choice may not always prove to be the right one and each company should strive to find a partner based on knowledge in a particular field and prior experience. A trustworthy partner is prone to reject projects and tasks they may not be suitable for, therefore exploring the options is something to be encouraged.

Executive-as-a-service will not be the silver bullet for every company. However, tech-savvy international talent can alleviate the rising pressure of the talent and skill gap. At a time when full-time hires are not a feasible option, a fractional executive may be just what the doctor ordered. The time is definitely right to take advantage of the numerous opportunities that global communication and international talent provide.

07 January 2020


Pavel Kaplunou, Marketing Communications

Pavel is Smart IT's Marketing Communication Manager. He oversees content creation and is in charge of the official Smart IT blog. Contact Pavel to learn about potential media and content collaborations. [email protected]